'I've Seen the Sniper's Kind Before'

The Nation of Islam has a culture of violence embedded in it. But it's far more than that.

In the 45 years since I was 12, and old enough to know the importance of such people in our world, I have made the fond acquaintance of many murderers, drug dealers, thieves, cheats, pimps and swindlers, as well as the countless snitches and other bottom-feeders they attract.

A few of the members of this rogue's gallery I met in college; I met one or two others at church. And I've met others in the Nation of Islam.

I'm glad that law enforcement has apprehended two suspects that they are fairly certain are responsible for the Washington area sniping. Last week I made the word "sniper" synonymous with the vilest word in my personal vocabulary. I used the epithets: "You look like a sniper!" and "You smell like a sniper!" in the same way the invective "yo' mama" is hurled in the ghetto vernacular. But I'm neither surprised nor really disappointed that one of the suspects in custody had ties to the Nation of Islam.

As peaceful as is the true teaching of Islam in its simple instruction to surrender one's will to Allah (God), when that teaching is filtered through the African-American experience of brutal slavery and Jim Crow--with three lynchings per week at its peak--it is easy to understand how some black converts to Islam might want to hasten that "great and dreadful day" when the Almighty will see to it that white America reaps the havoc it has sown on so many non-whites during its brief but bloody history.


It's never difficult assembling a quorum in any black barbershop to forgive the most gruesome acts committed by any black person-even a deranged person-against the larger white society. The Tuskeegee syphilis experiment, the Scottsboro Boys and the riots in Tulsa, Okla., are still fresh memories.

And if the anger is there, so is the connection to violence. Is it possible the Nation of Islam ignores it in its midst? There is no question that Minister Louis Farrakhan's sermons are often bitterly angry, and that such an atmosphere often permeates the Nation of Islam's meetings. But in reality, one of the things the Nation stresses


is self-control. So while it's true that the Nation does not eradicate the violent nature from all the people like John Muhammad who profess belief, I also don't think it fuels it.

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